FOND RECOLLECTIONS OF TONGA
Tonga will always be with me. My forebears' lives were intertwined with the history and way of life in the Friendly Islands. My time in the tiny kingdom, during part of my childhood years with the influence of the Tongan way, has left an indelible mark on me. along with many other Europeans exposed to life in the Pacific Islands, particularly Polynesia, I regard the experience as a privilege.
Dubbed the "company" baby at birth in June, 1925, in Sydney, Australia, I was to be shared with my mother's sister and her husband who were childless. This pact was carried on throughout my parents' and uncle's and aunt's lives. Being brought up by two sets of parents during my formative years had a tremendous impact on my life. when faced with different and sometimes conflicting values, it was difficult to divide loyalties. Loyalty was drummed into me by both sets of parents.
When eight months old my parents took me to their home in the Tongan islands, also known as The Friendly islands. Home was a copra plantation called Lotuma, a few kilometres outside Nuku'alofa, the capital of Tongatapu (Holy Tonga). Riechelmann Brothers was the firm my father and his brothers inherited from their father. They were Pacific Islands traders, importing and selling everything from a box of matches to motor cars, in addition to being copra planters.
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To go back to the beginning, my deep association with Tonga starts with the story of Joshua Cocker, my great-grandfather ... Joshua was one of five brothers from Yorkshire, England, four of whom sailed to the colony of Van Dieman's Land. After a short passage of time, his wife and family from Yorkshire came out on the Red Jacket to Port Philip, Melbourne, Australia, arriving on 1st February, 1858. Shortly afterwards the family sailed with Joshua's brother, William, for the south Sea Islands, finally reaching Tonga. Joshua and his wife, Elizabeth, chose to remain in Tonga thousands of miles from Yorkshire, and a far cry from his earlier occupation as a bank clerk, which lacked the adventure he craved. According to the official Tongan government calendar, and the Honourable Ve'ehala, Keeper of the Palace Records and Tonga's Official Historian (1965), Joshua was their first British Consul. Other records state that he was appointed vice-consul of Tonga by Consul Pritchard of Fiji, in May, 1862. As a vice-consul Joshua's duties were to ensure that the welfare of Queen Victoria's (British) subjects was not at risk, and that any British offenders were fairly tried. Special attention was given to the support of British missionaries. Whilst not interfering with foreign powers who visited Tonga, he reported fully to Levuka, Fiji, about their proceedings.
He performed consular duties for four years without remuneration or official recognition from the foreign Office in England. There were "lost" papers, red tape, and general confusion over this appointment. When a formal offer dated 28th February, 1866, finally arrived from the Foreign Office in London, Joshua, disenchanted, declined the appointment, claiming only reimbursement of 50 pounds expenses for the years he had worked as an unpaid consul. by then he was established as a Pacific Islands trader and planter. As adviser to King George (Tongan), Joshua assisted in the social and moral revolution then taking place in the kingdom. The first cow and bull were taken to Tonga by Joshua. The Tongans were terrified and climbed the coconut trees. His wife, Elizabeth, arrived with the first hand-operated sewing machine, later teaching the Tongan women to sew. Joshua was a great believer in Tonga maa Tonga (Tonga for the Tongans), helping to ensure that their land would be leased and not sold to settlers. Much of Fiji had been sold freehold to the Indians and many Fijians were already unhappy with their situation, an example not to be followed.
A religious man, Joshua was a lay preacher of the Wesleyan Church. Hardships he endured as a pioneer were described in a letter to his brother, Joseph. Joshua died in Tonga in 1880, only 56 years old. Elizabeth, his wife, lived on until 1911. The memorial clock outside the Free Wesleyan Church in Nuku'alofa, dedicated to Joshua, has gone. His family is a lasting memorial. Their daughter, Charlotte, was my paternal grandmother. She was born at the Palace in Nuku'alofa, Tonga, in December, 1860. Family tradition claims she was the first European settler to be born in Tonga. I was rather scared of Grandma. A stern person, she used to put the fear of God into me! In 1876 my grandfather, Henry William August Riechelmann, born in Hamburg, Germany, in 1848, arrived in Tonga. He became a prosperous Pacific Islands trader, and copra planter. A sentimental man, he composed this poem to Grandma during their courtship ...
The following letter was written after Grandpa had asked Grandma's parents for her hand in marriage ...
My dear Charlotte,
I called last Sunday upon your mother to get a final answer with reference to our marriage, but regret much that I was unable on account of your indisposition to see you as well. I now request you to consult your parents and give me an early answer. In case of your consenting to entrust your happiness to my care, it will be my constant endeavour to be worthy of the trust put in me. should your parents object to the short time we have known each other I would be most willing to wait. All I desire is to know for certain if I can indulge in the fond hope of calling you one day mine.
They were married in Nuku'alofa in 1879. They had ten children, five girls in a row followed by five boys! My father was the tenth child. With his brothers, he was educated at the Seventh Day Adventist School in Tonga during their early years, then at King's College boarding school, Auckland, New Zealand. Grandma delivered her own first baby, Emilie. The Tongan house girl was terrified, but brought Grandma's sewing basket on being given the firm order, then promptly fled. The house girl did not inform anyone of the situation, so Grandma cut the umbilical cord herself, calmly lying on her bed until her husband arrived home. I have often wondered how she felt; she was only nineteen years old. She had nine more children. It was this first experience that turned her into the most sought after "midwife" in Nuku'alofa. She delivered many babies, European and Tongan. There was no fee!
Memories of my grandparents are quite vivid. We moved into their home, known as the "big" house, in town next door to Riechelmann Bros. store. I was five and a half years old. The house had verandas all around, and the old folks occupied several rooms opening on to a side veranda. Grandpa was the busiest eighty-plus-year-old I have seen. He regularly whitewashed all the outbuildings and fences. He often let me help him, remarking, "Cleanliness is next to Godliness". He taught me, my brother and numerous cousins, copperplate handwriting. He expected perfection, and gave praise only when it was due. I valued it when it came my way.
Dad ran the three copra plantations and loved his occupation. Here was a man who was filled with the milk of human kindness, a gentle man yet strong and manly. Class, colour or creed mattered nought to him, who often said to me, "Never be unkind to anyone or any animal, for we are all god's creatures, and equal in His eyes. this is possible while remaining true to yourself. Always be yourself." I have never forgotten these conversations which took place when I was eight years old. My earliest memory of Dad was watching him ride off on his horse clad in jodhpurs and a pith helmet (in case of falling coconuts) soon after dawn, returning at nightfall six days per week. He worked hard and thrived on it. Dad had a wonderful seat on a horse. He and the horse appeared to be as one. Spurs were anathema to him. He broke-in horses for others as well as himself. I loved watching him do this, but from the other side of the fence!
The first time he put me up on a horse I was scared, so he mounted and sat behind me until I had confidence. I was four years old and couldn't reach the stirrups. "Learning to ride is as natural as learning to walk," he would say. riding became a pleasure. Dad's horse in my day was "Matatau", a magnificent animal. He rode him at Mataki'eu, Tonga's Horse Racing club, of which he was a founding member. The jockeys were Tongan except for one European race in which Dad rode and, in my day, won every year. Generally there were only a few riders in this race, as European jockeys were thin on the ground. it was an enjoyable family day. A picnic lunch was provided. Dad was also the local vet, not formally trained, but with a lot of experience bolstered by his love and gentleness for animals. Although baptised Frank Albert, Dad was given a chieftain's name, Finau (pronounced Feenow), after the noble, The Honourable Finau Ulukalala. Finau was the name Dad was known by all his life. Most European male babies were given a similar honour. Dad liked his, and it stuck. He was respected and loved by all Tongans, and this could have been how it began.
My mother, along with her family, were completely different, although no less interesting. Mother was usually referred to as the "Rebel" by most of her relations, whom I visited in Sydney. I eventually became used to "Of course, dear June, your mother was always a 'Rebel' etc. etc." It worried me as a child, but I grew to realise that it was said with affection and often admiration. Mother, Marjorie Bruce Mosman, was born in Sydney in 1894, and died in November, 1978, aged 84 years. She was coy about her age because she was four years older than Dad. Apparently it seemed a crime to be older than one's husband in that era. She did not reveal her age until her eightieth birthday! By that time Dad had died, so she was safe to reveal her naughty secret. She was definitely a law unto herself, and didn't suffer fools gladly. She was dux of her school at the matriculation level. Mother had a very erect carriage, was sometimes arrogant, and always had to have her "little say". She was a gentlewoman, and proud of her bloodline. She and my uncle and aunt programmed me along these lines as best they could, but I too had a mind of my own. I absorbed a certain amount of it, then switched off when I'd had enough. I wish that I had stayed switched-on, for now one of my big interests is genealogy, so Nemesis had caught up with me!
I respected and loved my mother dearly. She was kind and considerate towards others. It was a great self-sacrifice on her part both emotionally and financially, to send me and my brother over to Australia as young children. At the time I regarded it as rejection, for the parting tore me to bits for years. I came to realise later that it was done with love and care for our own benefit. her family were scholars, mostly medicos, musicians, accountants and journalists. her father, Carl, was the second son of a German Baron. By family accounts, he was no saint. At fourteen years of age he seduced his governess, or maybe it was the oth4er way around, causing considerable future in his family. At seventeen years of age he contracted tuberculosis, and was sent to Italy to recover. After finishing his Bachelor of Arts degree in Europe, he applied for the post of headmaster of Ashfield Grammar School, in Sydney, Australia, to which he was appointed. Some years later he became a lecturer in Languages at the University of Sydney. He was fluent in seven languages, learning Chinese in his fifties shortly before he died. A scholar to the end, he was a stern and studious man.
His wife, my beloved granny, was Lillian Bruce Harper, from a Sydney family. Granny was an accomplished pianiste who sometimes performed classical concert work in Sydney. She also taught music in her home after her husband died. A warm compassionate woman, with merry green eyes, she was full of fun, and a clever mimic. Spending many holidays with her when I came to Australia, she fulfilled my needs for a mother figure, and was the best friend I've ever had. She never scolded me, I would make sure that I did not do anything to displeased her, for she was like an anchor in a safe harbour. She died when I was eighteen years old. I was devastated. Granny's grandfather, Dr Frederick Harpur, one of the early surgeons to emigrate from England to Australia, set up practice in 77 King Street, Sydney, in 1841. He and his English wife, Eliza, lived in Pitt Street during the days when Sydney had about three hundred premises and residences listed in the postal directory. There are medicos in the Harpur family in Sydney today.
Granny's sister, Great-Aunt Gertie, married Mr. Justice Jack Woolcock of Brisbane. Their daughter, Betty, married Ragna Hyne, Chief Justice of the Tongan and Solomon Islands. Mother, on the lookout for adventure and something different from "the boring life of Sydney" (her words), went to Tonga for a holiday at the invitation of Betty and Ragna.
THE UNUSUAL ALLIANCE
This was where my mother met my father. Romance bloomed. After a four-month courtship, and engagement, they were married in the Wesleyan royal Chapel at the Palace on the shores of Nuku'alofa, Tonga. Mother's family in Sydney had begged her to bring Dad to Australia for inspection before the marriage. However, the Rebel always made her own decisions! Three years later they came to Sydney for my birth, and to see her family. I have never heard any disparaging remarks from my Australian family, so I guess he must have passed muster all those years ago. Dad's unusual wedding present to his new city-girl wife caused Mother much hilarity - five cows! She was always a good sport. To quote my son Andrew, "Gran was a great old stick!" As things turned out these cows were to prove a Godsend when the price of copra fell. They were served by fine bulls, and multiplied over the years. They were kept in a separate area. When any were sold, the money went into a special account of Mother's and carefully invested by her. It was known as "The Children's Education fund".
My parents spent their two weeks honeymoon on idyllic Fukave Island, which had been leased by Grandpa Riechelmann for ninety-nine years. It was our families' private holiday island, about eighteen hectares (forty-four acres) in size. Tapu (taboo) notices facing the water were tacked on to trees to let the general populace know that it was private property. The glorious scenery made it the perfect Pacific Island one reads about. The accommodation in those days, up-dated a few years ago was extremely basic, a big rectangular wooden shack with a thatched roof, and push-out shutters for windows. A curtain half-way along the one huge room divided the men's section from the women's when we took guests. There were lots of beds, and many happy house parties. The door opened on to a veranda with a white sand floor, an extended roof over it. There were some ancient but but comfortable squatter chairs, and others, and a table. Meals were brought brought to us here except when we had roast sucking pig cooked on a spit, or an umu (food cooked on hot coal underground), Tonga style. We then sat cross-legged on a palm leaf mat on the grassy knoll on the point, eating with our fingers, dunking them periodically in a half coconut filled with water, a practical finger bowl. As a child, this was my favourite way of dining.
The kitchen, also basic, was outside, in case of fire, at the end of the shack. We never used it as we always took our Tongan cook-boy, and others to wait on us. Their accommodation was in three fales (Tonga houses - thatched), some distance away. At the other end and separate from the shack were the bathing facilities, such as they were. It was a small wooden enclosed area, with no ceiling, for our showering. This consisted of pumping water like mad into a bucket, then hauling the bucket up on a rope, yanking the rope, and down came a deluge of cold water - plop! One needed to soap down first. The loo, or toilet, was a small fale vau (literally "bush house" in Tongan, but meaning toilet), some yards away with the best loo view ever, facing the water and 'Eua and Eueiki Islands. It was totally private, as long as one remembered the rules and sang fairly loudly when approaching it from the back.
The view from the veranda of the shack was superb and had to be seen to be believed, with coconut trees, breadfruit and pandanus trees in the foreground, looking down onto the white4 sandy beach. The water was carrying shades of blue and green with patches of coral reaching out to the reef. White breakers rolled on to the ref, with the deep royal blue ocean beyond. I remember long-ago holidays on Fakave Island with nostalgia tinged with some amusement. We would relax, swim, fish, collect shells at low tide, and go canoeing in outriggers (Tongan dugout canoes). The art was to lean away from the outrigger side, or you'd be in the drink before you had time to catch your breath for the inevitable immersion. They were carefree days. No-one bothered to look at clocks. It was early to bed as there was no electricity, just hurricane lamps, as indeed we also had over in Nuku'alofa. Fukave was where we'd practise climbing coconut trees. I was not much good at that, it is a lot harder than it looks.
Fishing, Tonga style, was by spear whilst standing on the reef. The men preferred this as it brought quick results requiring a practised skill. Dad was adept at this. However, children were given fishing lines for safety's sake. It was a tradition that all who visit Fakave must carve their initials on a coconut tree. The initials of quite a number of dignitaries, including some of the British royal Family, are there. Coconut trees were grown on Fukave for copra, and there was always a Tongan foreman to look after them, de-husk them, dry them, and bag the copra. We would take a load back to Nuku'alofa with us, unless we had guests.
TONGATAPOU AND OUTER ISLANDS
Back from the honeymoon my parents settled in to life on the mainland, Tongatapu, about 32 kilometres long, 14 kilometres at the widest point, and quite flat. It was a coral atoll wrapped around a lagoon. There were about 150 islands in the whole group of the Tongan or Friendly Islands. Nuku'alofa means The Abode of Love, and was the capital. during the Second world War, the United States' Mid-Pacific Fleet established Bleacher Base at Nuku'alofa. From the new wharf, Fa Ua (meaning 42), built by the Americans in 1942, ships went out from Nuku'alofa harbour to the Coral Sea Battle. The aircraft carriers, Wasp and Hornet, both returned safely. Corvettes (submarine chasers), manned by a handful of men - about eight, a captain, engineer, bosun, and a few sailors - were sent from Nuku'alofa to sink enemy submarines. The finest scenery was found on the island of Vava'u to the far north of Tongatapu. Unlike the other islands, which were mostly of coral formation, Vava'u was rugged and volcanic, and clothed from summit to shore with one glorious mass of verdure. Tourists also have visited Vava'u declare it the most exquisitely lovely place on earth. One of the deepest oceans in the world is the "Tonga Deep". The Port of Refuge was a beautiful harbour, whose waters were crystal clear and saxe blue. There were many small islands close to Vava'u.
One of these islands had a romantic legend. The entrance at the famous Mariner's Cave on Nuapapu Island was heart-shaped. The entrance was always submerged, but one could dive down and surface inside the high cave, a dangerous manoeuvre for the for the unwary. It was harder to swim out than to enter when the tide was rising. Two centuries ago this cave was a temporary refuge for a young Tongan chief and his lover, who later escaped to Fiji because of feuding. this story is according to Will Mariner, from the British vessel Port-au-Prince in 1806. The cave was named after Mariner, who survived a native attack and was adopted by a chief, Finau Ulukalala, once Lord of Ha'apai. He was an ancestor of the chieftain whose name was bestowed on my father at birth. The Ha'apai group; of islands was also inhabited, and lay about half-way between Tongatapu and Vava'u. In earlier days humpback whales were harpooned in these waters, a hazardous occupation undertaken only by the very brave. cook, an Englishman (no relation to Captain James Cook), a courageous whaler, established his own well-planned but primitive method. He would sail quietly up behind the whale without being seen by it. Accurate timing was essential in the capture. to quote Cook: "At exactly the same moment as the harpoon strikes, the sail comes down and the oars go out". The beserk whale would thrash the water. The force of a smack inviting the sharks to come in for an easy feed. The whale was lashed securely to the boat, the black and white flag hoisted. When this flag, depicting the black back and white belly of the whale, was seen from there shore, a launch would come to tow whale and all to the harbour. during occasional mishaps Cook had to swim for his life. he collection of whale oil at that time was lucrative.
Tin Can Island, or Niuafo'ou as the Tongans called it, was a remote island about six kilometres long and four kilometers wide, lying six hundred kilometres north of Nuku'alofa. The coastline was very rugged. There was no harbour and no reef to protect it from the heavy surf pounding it ceaselessly, hitting against the sheer cliffs. For quite some years it had the quaintest mail service in the world. An Englishman, Charles Ramsay ("Lamisi" in Tongan) first thought of it some years before the Second World War. He was a writer, and also ran a trading post there. Sheer isolation could have given birth to Ramsay's unique "invention". He began by swimming out to steamers himself although not a strong swimmer, nearly coming to grief on a number of occasions. The outward mail was wrapped in waterproof material, and tied to sticks. Tongans would support themselves with long buoyant poles, and whilst clutching these sticks, swim out with this mail to the ship. buckets would be lowered from the ship, the mail bundles put into these buckets, and hauled up by the sailors. Scaled biscuit tins, containing the inward mail were thrown over board to the swimming mailmen, who swam back to Niuafo'ou Island with them, about a kilometer or so.
This was no mean feat, and there were some mishaps. The tin Can Mail was stopped during the war, and again later when evacuation took placed because of Niuafo'ou's sometimes active volcano. After several quite nasty volcanic eruptions, the people were evacuated for their own safety. However, some have returned to this island to live in spite of the danger of more volcanic eruption. Polynesians had a strong loyalty and devotion towards their own tribal land and the grave sites of their ancestors. Eventually the mailmen used updated hefty canoes, but the mail was still in biscuit tins! Most of the people who were evacuated from Niuafo'ou Island settled on fertile, hilly 'Eua Island, south of Tongatapu, where Dad spent a lot of his time on Riechelmann Bros. estate of some two hundred hectares (five hundred acres). Dad helped with the re-settling of the Niuafo'ou people on 'Eua. He was able to empty quite a number of the plantation there. Dad and the Tongan "boys", as he always referred to them, even if they were grown men, cleared this two hundred hectares without machinery ... just sickles, scythes and copra knives, similar to machetes. There was a lot of the pioneering spirit of his forebears in my Dad. He loved a challenge, and anything to do with the land.
In Tongan waters, just off Tofua island, the Mutiny of the Bounty took place on 28th April, 1789. when Captain Bligh and his small band of loyal men were cast adrift by the mutineers, they landed at Tofua. It was said they spent two nights there sheltering in a small cave which almost certainly, was the place mentioned in Bligh's journal. Bligh made his escape from Tofua, but his quartermaster, John Norton, was killed on the beach. He was supposedly buried next to a famous warrior, Pa'ula Pola, who was strong and brave, so that he could stop Norton from coming back to haunt them. Though legendary, it was considered to be based on fact.
PARLIAMENTS, MONARCHS, AND THE TONGAN WAY
Tonga, formerly a British Protectorate, is now a self-governing kingdom, the only native kingdom in the world. In my childhood, and until 1970, it was under the fatherly eye of the British consul who advised their government The ties with Great Britain were very strong. The British monarch was known there as His/Her Brittanic Majesty, not to be confused with their own monarch. Tonga had an aristocrat-dominated parliament. Under a constitution more than 100 years old, the Legislative Assembly had 30 seats of which only nine, held by the "people's representatives", were democratically elected. Another nine were held by noble representatives. The remaining 12 were reserved for a cabinet appointed by the monarch. The nobles have traditionally supported the cabinet on the floor of the House. However, if the monarch disliked any law passed by parliament he/she scrapped it. No excuses needed. The monarch had divine right and ruled accordingly. The feudal system has worked well until latter years, when the commoners began to question it. There could be changes in the future.
Nobles ruled over chiefs with a chief to each small village. The commoner Tongan must give part of his crop to the chief, the chief to his noble and the noble to the monarch. It was the right of all male Tongans to receive eight and a quarter acres of land on attaining the age of 16 years. This was law. Although all land was leasehold and always has been, there was not enough to go around unfortunately so not every man could benefit. As Europeans' leases expired, they have not been renewed, except in the case of Riechelmann Bros. whose leases were renewed until such time as my father, Finau, died. Our families' forebears looked after the Tongan and Tonga in the early days. They looked after Dad, and last Riechelmann brother of his generation, caring about him until his death in 1975. I don't know how they got around the shortage of land difficulty. However, I do know that there were no starving Tongans. food was plentiful, crops were easy to grow in their good soil, and there were plenty of fish in the sea. Generous to a fault, they were splendid at sharing, and had a myriad of cousins who would come to the rescue when needed.
The ancient kings of Tonga possessed overlordship over a vast area of Polynesia. No accurate record exists of the successive changes of fortune which finally confined the kingdom to its present boundaries. Ethnologists have traced back the list of kings to the 10th century. During much of the time the territory was wracked by civil wars before the present dynasty was accepted. Civil wars were checked when George Tupou gathered all power in his own hands and was proclaimed king in 1845. He was a huge man, as are so many of the nobles and royal family to-day. He died at the gave of 96 years, outliving his sons and grandsons. He was succeeded by his great grandson, King George Tupou II, whose daughter, Queen Salote (pronounced Sahlotay) Tupou III came to the throne in 1918 reigning until 1965. It was Queen Salote who put Tonga on the map! She charmed millions of people in London at Queen Elizabeth's coronation in 1953. She was a remarkable and notable monarch who loved her people. The needs and welfare of her realm were her first considerations.
The Tongans were a very religious people. Tonga and Tahiti were the first in the south Pacific to accept Christianity. There were 21 Mormon churches in Nuku'alofa alone. Wesleyan-Methodist was the religion of the royal family, and once had the largest following. 10% of each Tongan's income had to be given to his/her church. No work was done or sport played there on Sundays. It was against the law. Europeans had to obey this law too or be heavily fined. It was possible to be fined just for fishing! The Constitution stated that "The Sabbath Day shall be sacred in Tonga forever and it shall not be lawful to do work or play games or trade on the Sabbath. And any agreement made or document witnessed on this day shall be counted void and shall not be recognized by the government." It was usual to attend three church services on Sundays and once or twice a week as well. No organ was needed. They sang the whole service, harmonising and part singing. It was really beautiful to listen to, making one feel emotionally uplifted. It was not unusual to switch from one religion to another, and could be done without causing rancour. Within a family group there could be spiritual adaptability. Christianity was practised sincerely in their every day lives.
Every important occasion was celebrated with dancing and singing. Tongan choirs were magnificent, having a rich and deep quality. It was natural, melodious and spontaneous. Even the elderly took part. The music was accompanied by part-singing and harmonising, without much accompaniment, except a throbbing drum to stimulate the rhythmic dancing. Most of the graceful dancing was done by crossing the ankles when standing, then sinking down to sitting in the "lotus" position. In some traditional dances even eyes, fingers, arms and toes would tell the story. The modern lakalaka, comprising old and new has become a national and ceremonial dance. One could feel the vibes of emotion of the dancers. I was allowed to join in the dancing on informal occasions. I loved it. One of the oldest Tongan musical instruments was the bamboo nose flute. The plaintive sound, soft and sweet, was rather mellow. It was said to date back to the 12th century. Played outside the palace in the early morning to awaken royalty, this was more pleasant than the shrill call of an alarm clock. Few are adept at playing it to-day. Should one sing or say some notes of our musical scale to a Tongan, there would be stony silence and acute embarrassment. It was swearing in Tongan!
Tongans were a gentle race, would go to endless trouble not to offend, and not to take offence. Loyalty was strong, the family unit much respected. "What's yours is mine" sort of thing went on. They were a happy, generally good natured, affectionate and emotional people. They laughed and cried a lot, could be lazy, and would tell you what you'd like to hear rather than the facts. Their language was soft, every letter was pronounced. There were no r's, I was used to instead. P's were pronounced as B's. My brother Robert, Bobby in those days, was Lobeti in Tongan. The chieftain name bestowed on him at birth was Tapoutotai. Needless to say it did not stick! One day per month was given by male Tongans towards eradication of the copra beetle, their labour being free. There were no snakes, poisonous spiders or frogs in Tonga. However, there were some scorpions and centipedes, generally found in wood heaps. Our wood heap was off limits to all children playing at our home.
Hospital Week occurred once a year, everything earned that week, by the Tongans, being donated to the hospital. This was entered into with great gusto and enthusiasm. Hospital care was free. The palangis (Europeans) also gave generously, working hard at functions to raise money for this worthy cause. Black clothing was worn to funerals with a very tattered tao-vala (palm leaf matting around the waist) worn over a wrap-around cloth taking the place of trousers in the case of men, known as a vala. They grieved deeply for their departed ones, mourning officially for six months for immediate family. All Tongans must wear a tao-vala to feasts attended by chiefs, nobles or royalty, being a mark of respect, equivalent to our tie. The more tattered, the greater the age of the tao-vala, so more treasured as an heirloom. This was the land of topsy-turvydom. Protocol could be tricky here for the unwary. Europeans stood for royalty, but Tongans of lower rank must sit, remaining at a lower level than royalty. If royalty sat on a chair, they would sit on the floor. If all sat on the ground, then royalty sat on a chiefly mat. "these mats were called fine mats, had a narrow weave, and were special.
Europeans stuck to their own code and stood for Tongan royalty. This produced a strange sight at times, especially at functions attended by Tongan royalty, commoner Tongans and Europeans. There would be a lot of activity. No-one sat anywhere at a formal feat or dinner table. Seating followed European style with the guest of honour seated on the host's right. Tongan girls made wonderful nursemaid who could be trusted implicitly with babies and children. They tended to spoil and not admonish. Idolising their little charges, they cried with them if they were hurt or sick, then smothered them with comfort. this was quite sincere. Our nurse girl, Ofa, was a treasure. I would run to her if I fell over or was hurt. she weaned me off the bottle by chewing arrowroot biscuits in her mouth, then transferring the mush to my mouth - ugh! I must have been about three years old at the time, far too old for a bottle. Until I was about six she often fed me in the car, an old tin lizzie Ford. I'd eat more there. She'd say, "Down the gleen (green) lane Sune" (pronounced Soonay, Tongan for June). Mother would say "down the red lane", but Ofa had her own version. she spoiled me, and I lapped it up. I loved Ofa.
When out for a walk, Ofa and I sometimes came across Tu'imalila guzzling mangoes. this sacred tortoise, also known as "The Old Man", was presented, with a mate that later died, to the monarch by Captain cook when he landed in Tonga in 1777. Tu'malila lived in the palace grounds from then until he died five months after the death of Queen Salote. He seldom strayed from the palace grounds, except during the mango season. He loved mangoes. He would always be returned there by my person who came across him. He was blinked by a bushfire in 1918, and run over by a jeep during world War II. A very battle-scarred shell was the result, though he lived on. He would have been about 190 years old when he died in May 1966. He was preserved, and is now in a glass case at the Dateline Hotel in Nuku'alofa. As Tu'i means king or high chief, he enjoyed the status of "King or chief Malila".
ROYALTY AND TRADITION
The Tongan royal family kept its members totally Tongan. They had strict rules to which they must adhere, and the monarch must be obeyed. They were not allowed to marry outside their own race, being proud of their heritage and determined to keep it pure. They could marry into the nobility, but not marry commoners, or Europeans. special dispensation was sometimes sought, but rarely given. They followed the British royal Family's guide lines to the nth degree! royalty and the nobility spoke a different form of the Tongan language. It could be described as more flowery, and perhaps their version of "upper class" language. A proud and independent dynasty, they did not regard themselves as inferior or superior to others. They were just themselves. In my day Europeans in Tonga, and elsewhere, admired and paid homage to the royal and noble families. An ancient tribute called tupakapakanava, was performed only on special occasions, such as a coronation, or the end of the Pacific war. fires were lit on top of mounds of sand all around the island. Tongan women being in charge of each fire. A signal, and then the shore would burst into flame. Cheers would echo across the island. Viewed from a boat this sight would never be forgotten.
Twenty-one gum salutes however were heard quite often. The English navy gave Tonga a cannon, which sat on the shore., still does, a few hundred yards from the palace. It was their pride and joy. It was used to welcome distinguished guests, ships in port (I think sometimes it must have scared hell out of them!). Opening of Parliament, Emancipation Day, the Monarch's birthday, and any other important occasion. some years after the Second World War the big sign outside the gaol was removed. It read both in Tongan and English - "Prisoners not in before six o'clock will be locked out!" The reason being that prisoners tended the government vegetable and flower gardens during the day. There was nowhere for them to escape. In those days prisoners were only kept locked in the gaol when there was a ship in port. At Christmas time they were given leave to do their shopping! Serious crimes were hardly ever committed.
Recently ethnologists said they could have formed a gateway to a royal enclosure as long ago as 1200 A.D. Other theories claim that this structure was used a calendar to study the seasons. Legend has it that the Polynesian god Maui brought these stones to Tonga in a giant canoe. There were similar rocks on Wallis Island to the north east of Tonga. It has been discovered that grooves cut on the top of the Ha'amonga point to the sun's position at dawn on the shortest and longest days of the year. Archaeologists have claimed that Tonga has been inhabited since the fifth century B.C. Historians think that Dutch navigators landed there in 1616. all this is still being studied, I'm told. why they regarded flying foxes as a tourist attraction was a mystery to me. In my opinion they seemed to be destructive. Their big teeth ruined fruit crops. They ere especially fond of mangoes and papayas. Tongans believed that an albino bat if seen here predicted a royal death. Most Tongan girls and women occupied themselves by making fine craft ware. They created their own designs in shell necklaces, bracelets, palm leaf handbags of all sizes, dinner mats, floor mats, laundry baskets, scuffs, trays and fans.
Some were traditional patterns going back as far as 400 years or more, being handed down from generation to generation. Others were designed by the individual weaver, some skilled and others not skilled. The fine chiefly mats could only be used by royalty and nobility, and were not to be taken off the island without permission in my day. Tonga's history was passed down the generations by the designs on their special fine mats. These "records" were kept at the palace. this is still done. A fine mat was made depicting the story of the historic royal visit to Tonga of Queen Elizabeth II and the duke of Edinburgh in December, 1953. Beating out tapa cloth was done by pounding water-soaked mulberry bark on a log until the narrow strips widen to about ten inches. Overlapped edges were glued with maniok-root juice. Tapa making was done every day and all day except Sundays. The bonk, bonk, bonk of the mallets could be heard all over the island. It was used for clothing, curtains, bedding, wall decoration, and when "red" carpets were needed. Tapa was a warm, but light, when placed between blankets. These tapa patterns were generally of traditional designs, although many pieces were individually painted, some with a creative flair for modern themes. They have been selling craftware for many years at their market place on the foreshore, near the town.
TIME AND TROUBLE
King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV said "Tonga is the place where time begins". Other have claimed that "Tongs is the place where time stops"! Tonga straddles the International Date Line, and had trouble with time. "Tongan civil time was calculated on two different meridians, not one. They were given the choice of day, so decided to match Fiji, New Zealand and Australia. The days of the week were calculated on 180 degrees. The hours of the day were based on 165 degrees west longitude."
"Instead of Tonga being 11 hours behind Greenwich Mean Time, it was 13 hours ahead." this resulted in dreadful confusion for tourists and strangers, but this was normal for Tonga. when checking on times for anything over there, you needed to ask "Tonga time or real time?" Otherwise you could have missed your ship or plane! The Seventh-Day Adventists in Tonga had a problem. Everywhere else in the world their Sabbath was on Saturday, the seventh day, but in Tonga it was observed on Sunday, the first day. The pastors, and the church leaders of the Seventh-Day Adventists maintained that Sunday in Tonga was actually Saturday, since it was on the eastern side of the date line. Apparently this was how they compromised. It would not have been practical to observe two Sabbaths.
The main trouble that occurred regarding time was when the radio station was built about 1960. They decided to go in for daylight saving to bet Fiji on the air with the news. When anything went wrong or was unexplainable, it was "Oh, faka (pronounced farcar) Tonga!" (meaning the Tongan way), generally said by all and sundry with a shrug of the shoulders. It saved a lot of arguments and unpleasantness. No one lost face! The "grapevine" in Tonga was known as the coconut wireless covering news as well as rumours. Lorne Denny, a cousin, was at one time the Chief Postmaster in Tonga, an unenviable occupation when Mail Day came around. The Tofua called in every fourth Monday. It was a very important day probably the only hectic days I can recall in Nuku'alofa. Everyone would want to collect their inward mail, answer it, and post it in time for the outward mail, to leave on the same day.
Lorne was an obliging soul and managed all this pandemonium, but his successor refused to cope with inward and outward mail, stamps sales etc. in the space of a few hours. After Lorne retired, the new Chief Postmaster finally succumbed to local pressure, when he received the following piece of doggerel composed by retired sea captain, Captain Fordham ...
An Autobiography by June D. Macintosh
Worlds Apart - Tonga - Australia